After School STEAM Program

The Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) is pleased to report the success that The After School STEAM Program is experiencing in its second year. The after school program is funded in part by the Pennsylvania Department of Education 21st Century Community Learning Center  (21st CCLC) Grant. Pennsylvania’s primary goal for its 21st CCLC programs are to assist youth to meet state standards for core academic subjects by providing students with academic enrichment opportunities.

Currently PAEP’s After School STEAM Program is engaging 5th to 8th grade students at five schools in the southeastern region: A.M.Y at James Martin School, Bache-Martin School, Shawmont School, Stephen Decatur School, and Woodrow Wilson Middle School.

The mission of the After School STEAM Program is to provide quality educational programming for all students through engaging visual and performing arts experiences. Designed to augment STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) with the inclusion of the arts (STEAM), this program employs visual and performing arts as a means to strengthen students’ mathematics and science competencies, promote healthy lifestyles through physical fitness and better nutrition, and enhance the development of students’ pro social behaviors and attitudes towards school.

PAEP recently sat down with Naza Badal, one of our dance-teaching artists, to discuss her work in the After School STEAM Program. Naza, who teaches at our Stephen Decatur School site, comes to PAEP from Project Spotlight, one of PAEP’s Rostered Ensembles who can be found in PAEP’s Directory of Pennsylvania Artists in Education. Through Naza’s experience with Project Spotlight, she teaches the students exciting styles of dance that they don’t typically get to experience, such as ballroom dancing, jive, salsa, and hip hop. PAEP took this opportunity to get Naza’s perspective on the program this year and what it’s like working with Decatur’s students in the performing arts.

PAEP: What made you get involved in the After School STEAM Program?

NAZA BADAL: As a dancer it was always my dream to teach kids what I love. There are so many talented children in this world. The After School STEAM Program opens doors for these students to things they couldn’t even imagine. When I got this job, I was excited to meet the students and teach them everything that I know about dance.

PAEP: Why did you become a dance teacher?

NB: I became a teacher because it is such an amazing job and not everyone can do it. My mom was a math teacher and that played an enormous role. Being an educator is a big responsibility. When I teach the students a certain topic, and they actually learn it, I feel successful. Personally, I love taking on new challenges and exploring what can come from it. Teaching can change a student’s life and who doesn’t want to be a part of that?

PAEP: What are you looking to get out of the After School STEAM Program?

NB: The first thing is to teach kids about the arts. You never know what these kids are capable of until you teach them and they try it out. I’m looking forward to meeting new students and trying to teach them in different ways. The schools are multi-cultural and I think that plays a big role in the success of the After School STEAM Program.

PAEP: How do you think these children benefit from attending this program?

NB: The students who attend this program learn how to connect with other students that are of different ages and cultures. The students learn about a variety of art disciplines and the program works on improving the students’ behaviors. For example, at Decatur we have a few students with discipline problems. Their behavior has improved tremendously in the after school program. We even heard from a few staff members that the students’ behavior has improved throughout the school day as well.  I think the After School STEAM Program helps children realize that the possibilities for them are endless. This is a good program, not just for the kids but also for us, the teaching artists.

Click below to see Naza’s work with Decatur’s students at an After School STEAM Program Open House that took place on November 21st, 2013. The Open House included extraordinary dance performances, theater performances, a visual art exhibition, and reception open to all parents, families, faculty, staff, and community members.


Watch the After School STEAM Program Video here:


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PAEP Receives The NEA Art Works Grant

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Acting Chairperson Joan Shigekawa announced that we are one of 895 nonprofit organizations nationwide to receive an NEA Art Works grant. We have been recommended for a $25,000 grant to support SmART Readers: An After School Arts and Literacy Program in Libraries.

PAEP, the Free Library of Philadelphia, and the School District of Philadelphia are partnering together to create an after school program at eight different libraries around the city. The program aims to build skill and knowledge in the visual arts while also reinforcing grade level literacy/language arts skills for kids in grades 2-5. Based on projects, SmART Readers will promote experiential learning in the arts, develop critical thinking skills, and will include research and writing skills in each arts unit of study. Our students will be able to transform libraries into art galleries, allowing all families of the students to view their work. The students will be also taken to the Philadelphia Art Museum where they can experience major art works representative of the project they will engage in during the course of the program.

Shigekawa said, “The National Endowment for the Arts is proud to support these exciting and diverse arts projects that will take place through the United States. Whether it is through a focus on education, engagement, or innovation, these projects all contribute to vibrant communities and memorable experience for the public to engage with the arts.”

Pearl Schaeffer, PAEP’s Chief Executive Officer also commented, “PAEP is delighted to accept this prestigious award presented through The National Endowment for the Arts. By utilizing the arts and partnering with key stakeholders in Philadelphia’s community, PAEP continues to strive to expand its work in after school time and provide students with more quality art experiences.

Art Works grants support the creation of art that exhibits excellence through: public engagement with diverse and excellent art, lifelong learning in the arts, and enhancing the livability of communities through the arts. The NEA received 1,528 eligible Art Works applications, requesting more than $75 million in funding. Of those applications, 895 are recommended for grants for a total of $23.4 million.

For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA website at

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PAEP Scholastic Awards

The Scholastic Art & Writing Awards is an annual awards competition, structured to spotlight the talents of students in grades seven through twelve, and potentially discovering and nurturing future leaders in the art and writing fields. Previous winners include trail blazers like Andy Warhol, Sylvia Plath and Truman Capote.

In 2009, the Scholastic Art & Writing Awards and the Alliance for Young Artists & Writers contacted the Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership (PAEP) to act as a regional affiliate for the award. With the help and recruitment of the PAEP, at least one child has won the highest award, the Gold Key, each year.

For students from Philadelphia, Montgomery, Bucks, Chester and Delaware counties, this is a huge opportunity for them to show off their talents at a regional and potentially national level. Students can submit work to 28 categories, including Architecture, Comic Art, Ceramics and Glass, Digital Art, Drawing, Fashion and more.

Once at the national level, they have the opportunity to win not only the awards, but also scholarships. Each year, 15 participants receive the Portfolio Gold Award, where students who submit a portfolio of work are recognized for excellence, plus $10,000. Additionally, through the Scholarship Provider Network, the seniors who are recognized with a national award on any level are eligible for nearly $4 million of scholarships at 60 schools. With this award, a child from the Philadelphia or surrounding area could go from dreaming of going to school, to making it a reality.

Aside from the scholarships, the awards are a chance for children to show off their exceptional talent, be recognized for it and ultimately learn what it means to put effort and passion into their work, and reap the benefits.

“We want them to have a sense of accomplishment and that their work is well done,” says Megan Lafferty, the Director of Administration at the PAEP. “We want them to grow as artists.”

To make this happen, Lafferty works in collaboration with the Philadelphia Writing Project to distribute information about and plan the awards. PAEP is charged with encouraging students to submit art, while the Philadelphia Writing Project promotes the awards to budding writers.

The planning for the spring awards ceremony, which can happen anytime between April and June, begins around October. PAEP and the Philadelphia Writing Project meet in a neutral location, like the Philadelphia Free Library, to start planning for the Awards.

Afterwards, PAEP promotes the awards using posters and postcards at schools, and the database of students who previously submitted work.

Students use an online portal to upload their work, which will later be judged by a panel of multifaceted artists and writers with versatile backgrounds, making them ideal judges for the variety of work submitted by the participants.

Last year, the PAEP saw an influx of submissions from the younger end of the eligible population. “A number of 7th and 8th graders won Gold and Silver keys,” Lafferty says. This is a sign of growth and influence of the awards, since participants are encouraged to participate year after year. “We’re building that 7th and 8th grade base.”

Even in the first few years, the PAEP has been able to watch the awards motivate a young artist. “We had a 7th grader submit, and have watched her grow through the program,” says Lafferty. “It’s fun to watch them grow as people and as artists.”



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PAEP is a Hit at the Arts in Education National Forum

Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership joined 177 other organizations working at the federal, state and local levels in Washington, D.C. to be a part of the Arts in Education National Forum: Arts, Education and the Next America.

Two days were packed with 22 concurrent breakout sessions to discuss the future — and importance — of arts in the American education system. PAEP applied to be a presenter at one of the sessions, eager to discuss the work they’ve done as part of the Arts Link program. This program is applied in and around Philadelphia public schools, using a $1.1 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education to research how to improve core content learning in mathematics and science using art and art concepts.

“We’ve been testing an arts integration model in schools since 2006 first to improve literacy learning and now mathematics and science concepts and skill acquisition.” says Raye Cohen, the Director of Education at PAEP.

PAEP’s research is applicable to the common core, which is the national standard adopted by the state for public school education. “Our model is well-aligned with the common core, and it helps teachers in the classroom to implement it.” explains Raye.

The common core engages students in their learning, making them actively learn and in return, absorb the information for future applications.

“The common core promotes discussion and debates,” says Mary Dupre, PAEP Special Projects Manager. “[For example], if a student looks at a photo from Hurricane Sandy, they might look at it and see destruction, but [do they understand] the long-term implications?”

For many students, the answer is no. “What we’re finding with the ‘no child left behind policy’ [is that we’re] teaching students how to answer test questions, without understanding the information to get to that answer,” says Mary.

“Now, there’s a shift in thinking about education, so they came up with this common core state standards; we’re actually going back to teaching students concepts and linking the facts back to those concepts,” Mary says.

Raye and Mary, along with Pearl Schaffer, CEO at PAEP and Dennis Creedon, Assistant Superintendent, Office of Academic Enrichment and Support, School District of Philadelphia, presented their findings at the National Forum in a presentation titled, The Common Core in Action: How Arts Integration and the Common Core Converge.

With close to a decade of experience behind them, 2013 was the first year PAEP had the opportunity to display their findings at the National Forum. “This was our chance to make our impression on people; otherwise there’s not really an opportunity to meet people, other than informally,” Raye says. With close to 300 leaders in the arts, business, culture, government and philanthropy sectors, it was a great event to disseminate the findings and network to create future opportunities.

PAEP has a lot to share with its peers. “The arts promote conceptual understanding, and using the tools, or the facts, to create the art — this is artistic process,” says Mary. “Unfortunately it’s stored away from all the other subject areas, but this process it the best for any type of learning.”

In an effort to break down those silos and integrate arts with the common core, PAEP has been applying arts integration in schools through the Arts Link program. “That’s why we wanted to present at this conference — to show them what this convergence is,” says Mary. “We believe we’re on to something.”

While some attendees had a general understanding of the common core and arts integration, they didn’t understand how it could be applied. “[During] our presentation, we took them through the process. We asked them to create questions that they would use in their classroom,” says Mary.

“Some of them would go partially into what they could do, then we gave them suggestions for what they could do,” Mary explains. “That’s when they really caught on; that’s when they saw what was possible.”

The research and presentation was well-received among their peers. “There was a lot of people afterwards who came us to and told us that it was the most informative, and for some, the best presentation they attended,” says Raye.

The PAEP team came equipped with a 40-page catalogue, detailing year two of Arts Link with unit plans and photographs that conveyed the power of arts integration to deliver common core state standards, arts and humanity standards, and grade level academic content. plans and photographs in regards to the work they’ve done with arts integration and the common core. “We had it hot off the press and were able to hand it out,” Raye says.

After the National Forum, PAEP plans on continuing to spread their research. “People are just learning about the common core,” Mary says. They’ve been invited to New York, Miami and San Francisco, among other locations, to share their presentation. Their main goal: “To continue to evolve our model through research and application and demonstrate that PAEP’s arts integration model is a roadmap for others to follow.” Mary says.

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PAEP Teaching Artist Profile: Baily Cypress

Mosaics have been a popular form of art for thousands of years, and their lasting power can be seen in the ancient Greek and Roman portraits and mythological scenes still on display today. This art is created by taking many small pieces of stone and glass and arranging them to make a large, cohesive piece of art. It’s a medium that requires dedication, vision and many man hours.

For one Philadelphia Arts in Education Partnership Teaching Artist, Baily Cypress, the process of making a mosaic is just as beautiful as the end result.

“[Students of] all different ages have the same reaction,” when they’re working on a mosaic, Cypress says. “Everyone gets this expression that comes over their face when they realize it…their part in the collaborativeness and the lastingness of it.”

Cypress works as a PAEP Teaching Artist in partnership with another artist, Julie Deery. The pair met at the University of the Arts, where Cypress graduated with her Bachelors of Fine Artsdegree. Cypress later went on to earn her Masters degree from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.

Together, over the past seven years, they’ve helped guide students in creating permanent mosaics in schools in the Lower Merion School District, about half an hour drive from Philadelphia, as well as schools in the city.

With each new group of children, and each new mosaic, Cypress and Deery follow a process to ensure that the final product reflects the inner workings of the school’s children.

“First, we ask the administration to have a theme,” Cypress explains. With the theme in mind, Cypress and Deery ask the children to brainstorm; to tell them anything that sparks their imagination.

After several brainstorming sessions, Cypress and Deery take a look at the ideas and figure out where the overlapping ideas are, and with that direction, the children draw their vision of the end mosaic.
Cypress and Deery then create a rendition for the group to follow, and then the hands-on work begins.

“The kids break the tile; the older kids, they cut stained glass,” Cypress says. “Everybody puts tiles on the wall, and everyone participates in the grouting.”

The end products are colorful, vivid mosaics that only a child’s imagination could create. “It’s their imagery, from beginning to end,” Cypress says.

The most satisfying part for Cypress? “I really like how empowered the kids are through the process of doing it,” she says. “It makes an impact.”

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Arts Link Art Exhibition

Have a craving for artistic expression? Satisfy that need for creativity by joining us on Monday, June 10, where we will be hosting the grand opening of the Arts Link Art Exhibition at the University of the Arts and will stay open for the next several weeks. We will be displaying various visual works that have originated from very talented and imaginative students that participate in our  program!

What is Arts Link?

Arts Link is an innovative program that helps students learn math and science concepts through visual art. This is what we are focusing on with our Arts Integration model!

Arts integration is, we are finding, the most effective way in presenting school subjects across the curriculum that enhance their learning skills along with retention ability. A second grader came to us and said ‘I was learning math and science and didn’t even know it! Our program makes learning, for our students, enjoyable. They remember and retain more and we are lucky enough to be funded by the US Department of Education!” – Mary Dupree

The Arts Link program is funded by the US Department of Education. The program we have created here at PAEP has helped inspire, influence, and teach core academic skills to our students in the Philadelphia School District classrooms.

What we are featuring!

The exhibition will feature creations that are the vision of some very talented students in grades 2 through 5. Classroom teachers have collaborated with teaching artists to create lesson plans using the Arts Integration model. With this model, elementary students learn math, science and literacy through the world of art in a fun and imaginative way!

We are very excited to present the Artwork created by these students to show how they can effectively learn concepts in math and science through visual art! A various and vast amount of art will be displayed such as colorful mobiles, detailed ceramic pieces, imaginative drawings and MORE! To better understand the connection of art and school subjects we will display the lesson plans to show the model along with its impressive outcome. We will have Artwork from : The Watson Comly Elementary School and Stephen Decatur School in Northeast Philadelphia; The General George McCall Elementary School in Center City; and the Thomas G. Morton Elementary School in Southwest Philadelphia.

We look forward to seeing you there! These students have made some pretty extraordinary strides in academics AND the arts that you must see for yourself.

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The Relationship Between Art & Spirituality

Join fellow PAEP teaching-artist, Tremain Smith along with painter Emily Brown and

sculptor Roger Wing as they share their relationship between art and spirituality. The conversation will take place on Saturday May 4, 2013, from 11:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Friends Meetinghouse at 4th & Arch Streets.

These artists are members of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia (Arch Street) and have been highly recognized throughout. This discussion will enlighten the audience on their artistic and spiritual journeys at this interactive sharing. Followed by this, there will be an allotted time for questions and answers with light refreshments served.

To find out  more information as well as the radio interview with Loraine Ballard Morrill that aired Sunday morning on WDAS and Power 99, incase you missed it.  Click here


We hope you all will be able to attend this discussion.

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Let Art Freedom Ring Bells at Sustainability Symposium Event

Last week, PAEP was featured at the Sustainability Symposium event at Temple University.  Having just finished up its third year, we were thrilled to be apart of this successful event.  From Monday evening through Wednesday morning we had two of our Let Art Freedom Ring Bells on display.  Both of these works of art showcased the different type of creativity each student possesses, and more importantly it express how art can influence education.

McCall Elementary School’s bell “Bell of Rights” focused on life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. They took it one step further by explaining that this is more than right, but also a goal.  The seventh grade students chose to channel the current events occurring in Philadelphia, as well as nationwide.  They developed a conclusion that these issues are connected in some way or another, creating a trickle down effect.  Their main focus of “one person is struggling, everyone struggles” was evident throughout the bell.  The black and white drawings represent the division that occurs when engaging in conversation about these issues.  The “Bell of Rights” also purposely added in shades of gray to explain that often, these are never clear-cut. However, the students of McCall Elementary did choose to add some color, around the yoke and the crack as a symbol of love, pride, and most importantly hope for the future.  A clever yet powerful touch might we add.

The other bell, “Building Blocks of Liberty: Words from Our Nation’s Founding Documents/Dreams from Our Nation’s Future Leaders”, constructed and designed by Houston Elementary showcased a different type of bell.  These sixth graders investigated the core values that make the American nation.  Following the term “brick by brick”, these students created a block for each meaningful term that represents America’s foundation and ever changing future.  This creating, a multi-layered recreation of the Liberty Bell, that portrays early concepts from the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the voice of modern-day leaders.  The final touch that these Houston Elementary students added were their own dreams that they would like to see for our nation’s future.  Their reason behind this was to tie into Martin Luther King’s speech, “I Have a Dream”.  Which of course is one of the foundations of our nation.

The event garnered much attention in the Greater Philadelphia Area, and turned out to be a huge success!  The creativity both of the elementary school showed off was incredible and a true sight to see.  It was a great learning experience as well as a great steppingstone for the students to display their work.  We would like to thank Sustainability Symposium and Temple University for hosting us this year!

For more information on what “sustainability” is, click here.

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PAEP Teaching Artist Profile: Tremain Smith

Tremain Smith’s work has been featured in galleries across the country, including four pieces in the permanent collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. While Smith is nationally known as an artist, teaching has emerged as another passion. Working with us here at PAEP, she has been teaching weekly at Penn Alexander School in Philadelphia.

PAEP: So how long have you called Philly home?

Tremain Smith: I’ve lived in Philly for 30 years, and been in my West Philly Studio for 20 of those years. It’s great because I only need to walk five minutes down the street to get to the school where I teach!

PAEP:  How did you develop your talents and begin to teach and exhibit?

 . TS: When I was five years old my mother let me paint in one of her friends’ studio. I did my first oil painting then, a bumblebee flying across the sky. After that experience, I took art classes whenever I could – in school, after school, on Saturdays. When it was time to go to college, I decided to go to art school. Then, I stopped making art to focus on other things.

PAEP: Why did you stop being an artist for awhile?

TS: It was during my first year as an art student that I began to doubt whether making art was a significant enough contribution to the world. So I left art school and worked as a community organizer in West Philadelphia. Ten years later, I began to paint again.

PAEP: It’s an odd question, but can you explain the meaning and significance of your work a bit?

TS: I arrange layers of color and shapes in abstract compositions to create compelling paintings.  Underneath there is a concern to make works of art that create access to the spiritual.  I define the concept of spiritual to mean beauty, and I want to portray physical and spiritual beauty through the elements of painting. For me, painting is a way of discovering larger understandings using the elements of line and shape, and color and texture. It is a tangible means of getting to the intangible.

PAEP: Correct me if I’m wrong…your work with abstract, geometric forms is a way for you to ponder and depict abstract spiritual meaning?

TS: Yes. This direction began when I saw a geometric diagram made up of circles and connecting lines in an old alchemical text — I was immediately drawn to its visual impact and began to study the tradition behind it. This tradition depicts the tree of life as a system of spheres and connecting pathways, and assigns numbers, letters, colors, sounds, and other symbols to these paths. The shapes themselves provide unlimited possibilities in art-making and open whole new possibilities of visual and spiritual discoveries with my technique of painting to them.

PAEP: How did your journey from artist to teaching-artist start?

TS: I am a graduate of the Teaching Artist Certificate (TAC) Program at University of the Arts, directed by Pearl Schaeffer and Raye Cohen.  The program was immensely helpful in giving “backbone” to my teaching practice by providing specific skills and information I needed to be effective in the classroom.  When the principle at Penn Alexander (PAS) found out I was in the program, she referred me to the Home and School Association at PAS – because some parents, along with school administrators, had formed a unique art program supported by parents and the community.  I established a curriculum and began teaching weekly art classes at the school. In the TAC Program, I had learned about arts integration and the third grade teachers at PAS were willing to plan an art project that would incorporate their weekly math and literacy goals into the weekly art lesson. PAEP/PCA fully supported this and we were off!

PAEP: Tell me more about Penn Alexander…

TS: My three children went to Penn Alexander. I like teaching in my own neighborhood; I see my students everywhere.  I have also taught art at the local library branch, another PAEP program, in the Cobbs Creek neighborhood where my studio is.

PAEP: Can you describe the program you did at Penn Alexander?

TS:  I’ve been teaching the language of visual arts weekly at Penn Alexander for three years.  I teach 2nd, 3rd & 4th grades, so this year the same students I started with in 2nd grade I now have in 4th grade. They’ve gotten the benefit of a progressive 3-year art curriculum, and I’ve had the pleasure of seeing them develop as young artists.  I tell my students:  Art has its own language that you use to draw a picture or paint a painting. It has an alphabet: LINE, SHAPE, COLOR, VALUE, TEXTURE, and SPACE.When you make art, you use these concepts in many different ways to express your ideas or feelings, or tell a story.  I made up a poem to help them remember the elements:

Make a LINE curved or straight

Connect it to make a SHAPE

Give it COLOR

Light or dark, that’s VALUE

Give it TEXTURE, smooth as silk or rough like bark

Put it in a special place called SPACE

Now you know the elements of art!

PAEP: Have you done anything like this before? If so, how was this different?

TS: I’ve taught in schools, universities, community centers, homeless shelters, retirement communities, summer camps, non-profit art spaces, and in my own studio in the form of workshops, after-school programs and residencies that range from one day to a full year.  This situation is unique in that I work directly with the teachers in planning and implementing the program, and that it is my third year working with the same students.

PAEP: Your work is very math-based. Were you good at math as a kid?

TS: No, math was my weakest subject.  In fact, I had to be tutored in long division!  It has only been the past few years that I have become fascinated with geometric shapes.  I carry a ruler, compass, pencil and watercolors with me wherever I go and spend hours working out geometric patterns. I have always loosely utilized grids in my artwork; but now I carefully lay everything out with a straightedge and have become absorbed in finding shape combinations that reflect a sense of harmony.  Through teaching symmetry, I have fallen in love with its beauty.

Alongside her studio work and work with PAEP, Tremain lectures and leads community workshops through various venues, particularly in the Philadelphia area.  Check out her website for more information:

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PAEP Profile: Jazz Percussionist Leon Jordan

Jordan & students

There’s a boisterous sound echoing the halls of local music classrooms – the sound of two dozen buckets being drummed in unison.  This could be a cacophony, but under the right direction, it’s actually a stunning example of music education meaning something in the lives of special students. Led by professional jazz percussionist Leon Jordan, Philly students are learning a new perspective and unlocking  talents through innovative jazz percussion.

Born and raised in Philadelphia, Jordan has been a musician for over 35 years.  He started his musical journey by learning the piano, but one of his instructors noticed Jordan might have a different calling.

“I practiced piano really hard, and my teacher noticed I had a knack for rhythm and adding in multiple layers rhythmic layers. She felt that I was more suited for percussion, but maybe she was really saying I was bad at piano!”

Jordan’s talent led to an early career touring around the country with other musicians such as the great jazz violinist John Blake.  Jordan also began teaching his own students. As he became more skilled at percussion, he continued to teach and take on students – even from the road.

“We did a lot of workshops incorporated with our concerts at different colleges and clinics. We would do a question and answer segments and then do some on-hands teaching. It has carried through the rest of my musical career.”

Jordan might be best known for his incredibly popular band, Renaissance Orchestra – who have that played numerous high-profile special events and traveled with the television show Dancing With the Stars.  Jordan got involved with PAEP about six years ago, and now he teaches mostly at-risk students and disabled children. Many of the schools lack resources for music education, and it is up to Jordan to provide a framework.

“Nothing I do is conventional. I don’t really follow a certain set standard of curriculum. Like a lot of my music, my teaching is improvisational.”

Jordan trains kids to be able to play melodies from memory, but also to be able to incorporate their own creative spin, by changing chords and adding in new layers of rhythms.

“I want kids to learn how to hear poly-rhythms. These methods apply to other instruments and teach them to always interpret and articulate music in other ways.  A lot of these kids struggle academically and are discouraged from trying new things that aren’t perceived as macho or cool, especially the boys. There’s a lot of peer pressure not to be into anything besides sports.”

Jordan works hard to break down these barriers and to show students that being a part of an ensemble can give a student the same discipline and satisfaction as any sport.

“These are tough situations, but when they play percussions they bang out all their frustrations. It’s amazing therapy. It’s a surprise to people, but kids eventually enjoy the whole process of the discipline and structure from it.”

For students who practice their drumming outside of the classroom and show commitment, Jordan introduces them to other instruments beyond the bucket drum.  His teachings work – six of his students have gone on to universities via music scholarships.  Jordan believes it takes a flexible personality to teach in circumstances without priority funding to the arts. Like true jazz, ad-libbing sometimes is key.

“I’m always learning new techniques of teaching from my students. For my special needs kids, we figured out a way to attach their instruments and drums to their chairs so that they didn’t have to play from the ground. These schools don’t always have resources, so you just gotta make it up on the spot.”

Improvisation is not an obstacle; it enriches the student’s leaning experience by showing them how thinking outside of the box can produce harmony. Students learn leadership and teamwork as a body of musicians and take these traits outside the class. The kids aren’t the only ones benefiting from the PAEP program either.

“It gives me access to students and the ability to teach them music. You can’t just do that as a professional musician. PAEP allows me to bring teaching and music together, and also to make it fun for the kids.”

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